2019 SOAR Summit Recap | Doing Things That Have Never Been Done Before

“We are harnessing the power of purpose and unity to shape Appalachia Kentucky. The Summit is an event where we take a moment to reflect on the progress we have made and reaffirm our commitment to one another across county lines to collaborate and connect to work towards transformative change throughout the region.”


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Pikeville, Ky. – Major Dan Rooney, a combat pilot, PGA golf professional and founder of the non-profit Folds of Honor, concluded his keynote remarks at the 2019 SOAR Summit with a simple and powerful statement: “I hope you walk out of this event with the power of volition in your life.  You can change and do anything if you get to this point.”

Volition is defined as the power of one’s will.  Major Rooney came to know this term in a college course when an instructor simply wrote the word on a whiteboard.  That term changed his life and that, along with his faith, has helped to inspire thousands across the globe.

Major Rooney’s remarks to more than 1,300 people at the Appalachian Wireless Arena were part of an inspirational two days focused on the future of Appalachia Kentucky.

“My dad asked me as a young boy what I wanted to be, and I told him I wanted to be a fighter pilot and professional golfer,” Rooney told those in attendance.  He admitted that as a child many thought that was a unique combination.  His father didn’t question his choice, but the next question would define Major Rooney’s remarkable journey in life. “He [my father] then asked me what direction a plane takes off.  I replied, ‘into the wind.’”

That phrase resonated for Major Rooney as he learned more about the work of SOAR, or Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), in preparation for its annual Summit. 

“How appropriate is it for SOAR… The headwind we face in Eastern Kentucky will create the resistance for us to fly,” he added.

Major Rooney shared a Volition Matrix, which goes from I won’t, I can’t, I’d like to, I’ll try, and I will.  

“Volition is the most powerful word in the world.  It is the power of choice,” Major Rooney explained.  “The choices you make every day, big and small, will write the legacy of your life. 

If you make it to ‘I will,’ nothing can stop you.”

Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR, said the 2019 Summit represents the continuing shift of the mindset of the people in Appalachia Kentucky and a shift of the national perception of the region.  

“We are harnessing the power of purpose and unity to shape Appalachia Kentucky,” said Arnett. “The Summit is an event where we take a moment to reflect on the progress we have made and reaffirm our commitment to one another across county lines to collaborate and connect to work towards transformative change throughout the region.”

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Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas announced a $500,000 grant to SOAR during the Summit.  The funding will go to SOAR’s program of work, including supporting the annual Summit through 2021.

“We are thankful for the continued support of ARC and Federal Co-Chair Thomas,” said Arnett. “Their investment and continued support are critical for our organization and partners to continue deploying our Blueprint and program of work across the region.”

The Summit was highlighted by the announcement of the completion of Kentucky Wired’s 1B and 2 Rings which provides middle-mile broadband infrastructure to 39 Appalachia Kentucky counties. 

The Summit also featured a last-mile workshop led by team members from the Kentucky Communication Network Authority (KCNA) and Center for Rural Development to help communities understand the vast resources available to build out last-mile infrastructure.

Pikeville Medical Center (PMC), a Presenting Partner of SOAR, also announced a collaboration with Big Sandy Community and Technical College to expand its nursing program.  This will include a $40,000 grant from the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) to hire a pathway coordinator to work with the college and PMC.  This collaboration also includes a partnership with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Cabinet’s Kentucky Advanced Technical College High, or K-TECH, program which will create apprenticeship opportunities with the college, PMC, and Pike County and Pikeville Independent school districts.

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Also, SOAR Principal Officers Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Matt Bevin announced $34.4 million in Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot grants for 20 projects in 14 Appalachia Kentucky counties.

They included:

• Pikeville Medical Center | $4.78 million for the construction and resources necessary to develop a children’s hospital and pediatric clinic.

• Leslie County | 2.056 million to develop the Leslie County Job Training, Connectivity and Teleworks program, which will expand internet connectivity and provide training for high demand jobs.

• The East Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) | $3.4 million to expand its outreach from Johnson County to the East Kentucky Correctional Complex at West Liberty.

• The USA Drone Port | $1.5 million to construct a cutting-edge, indoor drone flight-testing facility. The 20,000-square-foot facility will enable all-weather drone research and development.

• Hazard Community and Technical College | $2.5 million to retrofit the existing industrial education building into the Advanced Manufacturing and Construction Center of Excellence in order to provide high-tech, hands-on training in the manufacturing sector.

• The Martin County Water District | $2 million for a new booster pump station, a 250,000-gallon storage tank, and other upgrades to shore up water system failures.

• The Big Sandy Regional Industrial Authority | $2 million to construct a build-ready site for a 200,000-square-foot building and to renovate other locations in the Eastern Kentucky Business Park.

• The International Landing Zone | $1.37 million to create a multi-user manufacturing facility in an existing 33,000-square-foot facility in the Eastern Kentucky Business Park in Martin County.

• Southern Water and Sewer District (Floyd County) | $1.5 million to replace and update water meters serving its residential and commercial customers.

• Troublesome Creek Environmental Authority (Knott County) | $743,000 to expand a sewer collection system to the USA Drone Port and to add water service to the site. The project will lay the groundwork for future water service expansion.

• The City of Paintsville and Johnson County | $4 million for construction of a sewer expansion that will free up capacity at the Paintsville Waste Water Treatment Plant by diverting waste to the Honey Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant.

• The City of Beattyville |1.25 million to develop a trail head along the Beattyville Coal Seam that will serve as a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

• The City of Prestonsburg | $185,000 to do planning and feasibility studies to develop the Levisa and Russell Forks as a Blue Water Trail.

• EKY Heritage Foundation, Inc. | $3.465 million (through two grants) to develop Thunder Mountain, a world-class, sport-shooting and archery resort park in Letcher County.

• Impact Outdoor Adventures (Clay County) | $205,000 that will build a roadway to provide improved access to the Impact Outdoor campground, which hosts year-round events for local youth.

• The Kentucky Coal Heritage Trail (Floyd County) | $225,000 to develop a comprehensive inventory of coal-related buildings, and vacant historic sites in the 20 Appalachian Regional Commission’s coal counties of Southeast Kentucky. The inventory will help launch reclamation efforts and tourism activities related to the region’s rich coal mining heritage.

• The Harlan County River Ramp | $376,000 that will construct nine ramps for canoe and kayak access into the Cumberland River and two dock ramps at Cranks and Highsplint lakes for recreation and fishing.

• Mine Made Adventures (Knott County) | $1.5 million to expand and develop the park. The project will include campground sites, cabins, and a multi-use building. The newly developed park will serve as a trailhead for hundreds of miles of interconnected, multi-purpose trails.

• The South Fork Elk View Campground (Breathitt County) | $1.345 million to continue development of the campground and recreation opportunities. 

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles also announced that 17 counties have been added to Appalachia Proud, the brand that designates agricultural products from Appalachian Kentucky.

For more information on SOAR, visit www.soar-ky.org.  To view the impact SOAR and its partners are making across the region, visit www.thereisafuture.org.